Twitter announces action against politicians’ rule-breaking tweets

Updated June 28, 2019

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US President Donald Trump. — Reuters
US President Donald Trump. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: Twitter said on Thursday it would label and “deprioritise” tweets from officials and politicians that violate its rules — a move potentially affecting the prodigious output of US President Donald Trump.

The new policy enables Twitter to move against rule-breaking comments on the short-messaging service while enabling messages and announcements that are important for public debate.

In these cases, users will see a notice about a tweet which violates the rules and must then tap or click through to see the message.

Twitter also will “take steps to make sure the tweet is not algorithmically elevated on our service, to strike the right balance between enabling free expression, fostering accountability, and reducing the potential harm caused by these tweets”, according to a statement from the Twitter safety team.

“In the past, we’ve allowed certain tweets that violated our rules to remain on Twitter because they were in the public’s interest, but it wasn’t clear when and how we made those determinations,” the company said.

“To fix that, we’re introducing a new notice that will provide additional clarity in these situations, and sharing more on when and why we’ll use it.” Twitter said it expected these cases to be “rare” and that the new policy would only apply to verified political candidates and government officials with more than 100,000 followers. It will not affect tweets sent prior to the announcement.

Twitter has the ability to remove tweets and block users posting inappropriate or abusive comments, but has also insisted on allowing matters “serving the public conversation”. To determine if a tweet violates the rules but must remain visible, Twitter will deploy “a cross-functional team” from its safety, legal and public policy departments to determine “if the tweets are a matter of public interest”.

Trump’s claim of bias

The move comes a day after Trump doubled down on his criticism of Twitter, who has claimed the platform is biased and suppresses conservative voices, despite the president’s following of 61 million users.

“What they did to me on Twitter is incredible,” Trump said on Wednesday. “I have millions and millions of followers, but I will tell you they make it very hard for people to join me on Twitter, and they make it very hard for me to get out the message.”

Even as Trump attacks online platforms, his critics have claimed that he violates the terms of service of Twitter by attacking and insulting judges, media, sports figures and others with whom he disagrees.

In one instance, he retweeted a video that appeared to encourage violence against a Muslim lawmaker, and on another occasion praised a congressman for body-slamming a reporter.

Social media firms have been facing pressure to curb hate speech and extremist propaganda, blocking accounts of many conspiracy theorists. But Trump and his allies contend that the purge has also silenced conservative voices.

Earlier this week, Reddit said it had “quarantined” a popular forum of Trump supporters, claiming users repeatedly violated platform rules by promoting violence.

Facebook announced meanwhile it would soon open up nominations for a new 40-member oversight panel to make tough decisions on content moderation, saying it would be independent of governments and management of the social networking giant.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2019